Sports Commentary: Shape up or ship out


When Delaware hired Chrissi Rawak as athletic director last May, the university’s marquee athletic programs were in shambles.

The men’s basketball team finished 7-23 overall and 2-16 in the conference, their worst CAA record ever. At the conclusion of the season, interim AD Matt Robinson fired coach Monte Ross.

The football team finished 4-7, their worst record since 2008. Dave Brock got the axe after an uninspiring 2-4 start to the 2016 season. Brock left Delaware with a career record of 19-22.

Rawak is tenacious. She doesn’t care about your resume. She doesn’t care how long you’ve been here. She cares about winning.

On Oct. 16, she wiped the slate clean. That was the day Rawak fired not only Brock, but also volleyball coaches Bonnie Kenny and Cindy Gregory. The moves precipitated a year-long trend of long-time coaches stepping aside.

Scott Grzenda was the only coach Delaware ever had in women’s soccer. After 27 years as head coach, Grzenda retired Nov. 11. His squads posted just four seasons above .500 in conference play since 2001. In 2016, the team finished eighth in the CAA with a conference record of 3-5-1.

Bob Shillinglaw’s 39-year run as Delaware men’s lacrosse head coach ended Friday night with an 11-7 loss at Fairfield. The grizzled head coach announced his retirement before the 2017 season, prompting a complete farewell tour. Despite a laundry list of career accomplishments, Shills’ teams struggled in recent seasons, going a combined 6-26 in the CAA in the six years since they last won the conference.

The latest casualty of the Rawak era is 21-year women’s basketball head coach Tina Martin. She retired Friday from coaching at Delaware but not from coaching, according to a report from The News Journal. Various media outlets have reported that the fiery 52-year-old still had years remaining on her contract. After advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2013, her team suffered a steady decline in the following years, culminating in a one-and-done appearance in this year’s CAA tournament.

Rawak is also charismatic. It reflects in her choice of coaches and everyday charm.

When Rolf van de Kerkhof’s field hockey team won the national championship in November, Rawak gleefully took to the field to share in the celebration. No other athletic director witnessed a women’s national championship since 1983. Rawak saw one in her first six months.

On the field after the game, she explained her vision.

“What I’m working hard to get all of our coaches to do is building programs, not just teams,” Rawak said. “That builds sustainable success. That builds that winning culture.”

Martin Ingelsby, the protege of Notre Dame and former Delaware head coach Mike Brey, was hired by Rawak before she even formally took office. He is a vibrant and polished first-year head coach with a blind passion toward the sport and profession. Day one, he signed Ryan Daly, who quickly became the program’s cornerstone. By season’s end he improved the Hens’ overall record by six wins from the year before.

Sara Matthews, heralded as a top recruiter at Texas Christian University, is tasked with rebuilding what was a “toxic environment” for women’s volleyball under Kenny and Gregory. Rawak said she is the “quintessential student of the game.”

In addition to Matthews, Rocco and Ingelsby, Rawak hired Mike Barroqueiro as the new women’s soccer coach and Pablo Montana as the new men’s tennis head coach. She will hire new women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse head coaches in the coming months.

In less than a year, roughly 40 percent of the head coaching positions have turned over, under Rawak. Shape up or ship out.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2. The originally published version incorrectly listed Delaware’s last national championship as occurring in 1983. The football team won the FCS national title in 2003.

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